The Russian-Turkish-Iranian Axis: Strange Bedfellows

 

 

 

 

 

 January 23

 

 

 

 

Sixty years have lapsed since the Baghdad Pact which grouped together Turkey, Iran, Iraq and the West in an alliance against the Soviet Union and the concomitant communist danger. Nowadays this Middle Eastern architecture has shifted 180 degrees where Russia, Turkey and Iran are in an ad hoc alliance against the supposedly radical Islamic State but which may turn against the West as well. Still, the new alliance might be termed as a marriage of inconvenience where each of the parties has different motives and is acting at cross purposes in partitioning the Syrian bear.

 

Russia has fulfilled a long time dream of reaching the warm water of the Mediterranean and is casting itself as the hegemon in the region. The erstwhile unipolar world where the US was the only power in the Middle East has disappeared and the vacuum left enabled Russia to spread its influence in many countries in the region and become the arbiter in the simmering conflicts in Syria.

 

This structural shift has convinced Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan to follow the adage "if you cannot beat your enemy join him." Ironically, it was the domestic threat perceptions that threw Turkey into the arms of Russia. So threatening the Kurdish national movement in Turkey and Syria appeared to him that Erdogan was willing to make his peace with Russia disregarding built- in Turkish fears of being flanked by Russia from the north and the south. Driven by the need to contain or destroy the Kurdish autonomous region in Syria, Turkey had in this way to compromise on three geostrategic issues: Russia's hegemonic power on its southern border, the survival of its nemesis the Syrian Ba`thi regime, and the further solidification of its rival-- Shi'i Iran in Syria.

 

The Nuclear deal with Iran which came into force a year earlier had an unexpected but ironic outcome as well. Rather than moving Iran to moderate its policies, democratize, and ally itself with the West, the deal pushed it to increase its hegemonic aspirations in the region, destabilize it and throw its lot with Russia. But here too the aspirations of the minor hegemon might clash with those of the bigger one as Iran too seeks to reach the Mediterranean by building the Shi'i axis from Iran via Shi'i Iraq, Alawite Syria and The Shi'i Hizbollah. In this endeavor its interests might clash in the longer run not only with Russia but with Turkey as well.

 

Russia assumed the mantle of brokering peace in Syria. It has achieved a certain lull in the fighting, it is convening the peace process in Astana, and it is maneuvering the Assad regime for its own purposes, interestingly without having him included in the new found alliance. As for the US it is playing a minor role in the peace process but anyway the fate of Syria will be decided in the battle for liberating al-Bab and al-Raqqa from the Islamic State. There, the US will have to take part while facing a dilemma which of its allies it will support: Turkey or the Kurds.

 

The Baghdad Pact lasted for only three years (1955 -1958). The new tripartite alliance might not survive that long. This new structure is very fragile because of changes which are likely to occur in US under the new Trump administration, the deepening of the Sunni-Shi'i divide and the multiplying players and conflicts on the Syrian ground, all of which promise to preclude stability and lasting alliances.

 

 

[The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BasNews.]